Fighting Islamophobia at Laurier starts through transnational conversations

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On Jan. 17, from 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the Paul Martin Centre on Wilfrid Laurier University’s Waterloo campus, the Faculty of Arts, Muslim Studies, Religion & Culture and Office of Research Services organized a “Transnational Dialogue on Islamophobia” event, evaluating how Islamophobia is continuing to impact America, the United Kingdom and Canada.

Speakers at the panel included Salman Sayyid, head of the school of sociology and social policy at the University of Leeds, Hatem Bazian, co-founder of the Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project at U.C Berkeley and professor of Islamic Law and Theology at Zaytuna College and Jasmine Zine, professor of religion & culture and sociology at Laurier.

Also present at the event were a number of members of Safety, Health, Environment and Risk Management (SHERM) Laurier.

SHERM offered additional security for both the speakers and attendees.

“All of us, as academics who work in the field around Islamophobia studies, particularly Dr. Bazian, has received a lot of backlash, threats and intimidation because of his work — and I have too, to a lesser extent,” Zine said.

“Because of the climate now of much more open presence at times of alt-right groups, I think that there is a concern around that … It may have also been out of an abundance of caution, given the issues that have happened on this campus in the last year.”

“It’s also an awkward thing for Muslims who are used to being surveilled and securitized to have that sort of presence there,” she said.

Each panelist spoke regarding the current climate of Islamophobia, discriminatory practices and the general negativity towards Muslims in each of their respective countries, as well as providing historical context, giving a greater understanding of what has led to its rise in these areas.

“However, once you start talking about Muslims that all dissolves — Kurds, Turds, Muslims — they all become one. This starts happening at the same time in Europe when you start having European integration, which starts talking about Europe as a pan-European entity,” he said.

Sayyid discussed the recent and global circulation of Islamophobia, as well as how certain right-wing movements and nationalistic ideologies have become connected to discriminatory or prejudicial practices or beliefs.

“Why is it the case that to be a card-carrying extreme-right, you need to be Islamophobic? Why does Islamophobia fulfill that function? This is slightly puzzling because, in one way, many of these groups would often describe themselves as being ‘nationalist’,” Sayyid said.

“One of the things about nationalist groups is that they are very much focused on ‘the nation.’ So the question arises: if they’re focused so much on the nation, why are they using vocabulary which is transnational?”

He also evaluated the etymology behind ‘Islamophobia’ as well, as he believes that the clarification of the definition does more than simplify debate regarding the concept.

“It is [also] to help us to situate and make particular kinds of linkages and associations which are going on already.”

“When you’re dealing with a definition, you’re actually dealing with a polemical or polemicized process,” Sayyid said.

“One of the things that we often hear is that Islamophobia is a kind of very recent word invented at the turn of the twentieth century … The contemporary views of Islamophobia begin in 1997 with a report published in Britain by the Runnymede [Trust].”

What they argued during this period was that certain forms of racism and discriminatory practices could not be properly measured by anti-racism measures in Britain.

Up to that point, he believes, right-wing groups had different targets.

“However, once you start talking about Muslims that all dissolves — Kurds, Turds, Muslims — they all become one. This starts happening at the same time in Europe when you start having European integration, which starts talking about Europe as a pan-European entity,” he said.

With a Statistics Canada report released in June 2017, noting a 61 per cent increase in hate crimes targeting Muslims between 2014 to 2015, as well as an overall increase of 5 per cent in 2015, it would seem that these transnational conversations are now more crucial to have than ever.

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